Broken Flowers Review

Don Johnston (Bill Murray), just after his girlfriend Sherry (Julie Delpy) leaves him, receives a mysterious letter. It’s typed in red ink on pink paper, with no signature and an unreadable postmark, telling the determinedly single Don that he has a nineteen-year-old son. So Don, with the aid of neighbour Winston (Jeffrey Wright), an amateur detective, goes on a journey to track down the four girlfriends (a fifth one is now dead) from two decades earlier.

I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch ever since I saw his second feature, the one that made his name, Stranger than Paradise, twenty years ago. I’d never have thought I’d ever see one of his films play my local multiplex, but that’s what Broken Flowers did – and it was a full week’s run, not just a one-day-a-week arthouse slot. There are various reasons for this: distributors hoped that audiences who went to see Lost in Translation (an overrated film to my mind, but I won’t begrudge it its success) would watch Bill Murray in another sort-of romantic comedy that depended more on character and mood than plot. Also, this is a Jarmusch film whose concerns are rather less rarefied to a mainstream audience. It’s not that Jarmusch has sold out: for all that I’ve said, Broken Flowers still has many of its writer-director’s fingerprints on it. It is a film for once aimed at adults, and middle-aged adults at that (Jarmusch and Murray are both in their fifties), as the central character has to confront his own past and the passing of time. The mystery is something of a red herring and may or may not be resolved by the film’s end. I confess I found this film a little disappointing, but if it inspires newcomers to check out Jarmusch’s earlier work, then that’s fine by me.

Many of Jarmusch’s trademarks are here: the leisurely pace, the deadpan wit, the scenes of seemingly inconsequential dialogue that reveal character, the episodic structure. Jarmusch usually favours an unobtrusive, if not static, camera style, though he can cut loose if he wants to, such as in the 360-degree tracking shot around Murray that concludes the film. Frederick Elmes’s low-key camerawork fits the mood perfectly. As ever with a Jarmusch film, the idiosyncratic use of music is a delight, from the Greenhornes (with Holly Golightly on vocals) over the opening credits to the Ethiopian jazz and reggae from a CD burned by Winston for Don’s journey.

On the other hand, a little over-literalness has crept in. I don’t know how many times we’re told that our protagonist is an ageing Don Juan…but we’re told it several times in dialogue, it’s signalled in the character’s name and he’s even introduced watching the 1934 film The Private Life of Don Juan. (He’s watching an Academy-ratio film cropped to 16:9, boo hiss.) Yes, we get it!

Broken Flowers is very strongly cast, perhaps a little too strongly. Jarmusch wrote the role of Don for Bill Murray, with whom he’d previously worked on Coffee and Cigarettes. Murray offers a masterclass in underplaying, giving little away and relying on his natural charisma to carry his performance. Jeffrey Wright steals every scene he’s in, which are in the first half of the film. Of the female roles, Julie Delpy, Tilda Swinton and Chloe Sevigny have little to do. Sharon Stone is a delight as a widow with a daughter aptly named Lolita.

I found Broken Flowers something of a mixed bag: overlong and inconsequential even by Jarmusch standards. However it does have its rewards, though what non-fans made of it is another question.

The version received for review was the Canadian release from Alliance Atlantis. It is very similar to the US release from Universal except for its language and subtitle choices. The Canadian release also has bilingual (French and English) packaging. It is encoded for Region 1 only. The disc begins with previews of the forthcoming theatrical release Trailer Park Boys and the DVDs of Brokeback Mountain. and The Constant Gardener plus for some reason an advertisement for Caramilk chocolates. Fortunately these can be skipped.

The film is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.78:1, slightly opened up from an intended 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. As you would expect from a brand new film, there’s nothing to fault this. The colours seem true, if deliberately low-key, the picture is sharp, blacks solid and shadow detail fine. One or two longer shots seem a little soft, but overall this an excellent transfer.

There are two soundtracks, the original English and a French dub, both in Dolby Digital 5.1. This tends to be used for ambience – particularly noticeable in the airport scenes – and the music score, with some directional sounds now and again. The subwoofer is mostly called upon to fill out the basslines in the songs. There are twenty chapter stops. Subtitles (which are directional on screen) are available for the feature and all the extras.

On to the extras, which are a little lightweight. Jarmusch has never done a full-length commentary, explaining that he has great difficulty analysing his own work or even seeing it again once finished, so the nearest we get is “Farmhouse” (4:20), a selection of mostly black and white behind-the-scenes footage with a voiceover by the director. He doesn’t say a lot, but what is interesting is that he asked all four leading actresses to write the letter in character, and Jarmusch included elements of all four when putting together the version we see in the film. “Girls on the Bus” (1:43) is an extended version of a scene from the film, while “Broken Flowers Start to Finish” (7:41) is a collection of out-takes. From the numerous sights of the clapperboard, we can see that the film was called Dead Flowers in production. “Farmhouse” is 4:3 while the other two items are non-anamorphic 1.85:1, as is the theatrical trailer (2:08). There’s nothing on here you’re likely to want to watch more than once. Finally there’s a single text page giving details of the soundtrack CD.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:44:01

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